Lebanon's cabinet threatened Thursday to revoke agreements with two mobile telephone companies for contract violations unless they pay the government 600 million dollars.
But officials of Cellis, a subsidiary of France Telecom, and LibanCell, which is 14 percent owned by Finnish company Sonera, told AFP they have always respected their contracts' technical clauses and their financial commitments.
Information Minister Anwar al-Khalil said after a late night cabinet meeting that Cellis and LibanCell have one month in which to satisfy four conditions.
The first is "the restitution of 600 million dollars to the state to compensate it for losses from contract violations."
The two companies must also pay the treasury 30 percent of their gross 1999-2003 income in conformance with the cabinet's February 2, 1994 decision, Khalil said.
Thirdly, they have to pay 50 percent of the fees that they generate above those for the 125,000 lines per company that the state authorized.
And they have to turn over to the state, effective immediately, any fees generated by their supplementary services, such as call forwarding.
In a number of these cases, the companies are accused of being several months behind in their payments to the state and in their municipal taxes.
But officials of the two companies, who asked not to be identified, said that their contracts said nothing about a ceiling on the number of subscriptions.
Cellis said it has 365,000 subscriptions while LibanCell says it has 265,000.
The two companies had signed with the Lebanese government build, operate and transfer agreements for a 12-year period, with an additional two years optional.
During that time, they were to have exclusive rights for the first seven and a half years.
For the past year, the minister in charge of telecoms, Issam Naaman, and the two companies have been at odds. The conflict deepened with the government's decisions to impose an additional tax of four US cents in April 1999, bringing the tax per minute for a call to 12.2 cents.
The row has prompted Cellis and LibanCell to post large advertisements with graphs refuting the government's case.
The Lebanese parliament was discussing the telecommunications dispute Thursday -- BEIRUT (AFP).
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